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The Simple Secrets of The Perfect Italian Pizza Margherita

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pizza margherita

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What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word “pizza”? I bet that most of you relate this word to a well-known unhealthy combination of carbs and fats, whereas those that are careful what to put on their menu, completely scratch it off their list. Let’s face it, our opinion didn’t differ greatly from that, until we stumbled on the “Original”. Prep your clean oven and get it in shape, because we don’t want the nasty food deposits to interfere with our final product.

A Few Patches of History

The origins of pizza can be traced back to Ancient Greece, when the locals prepared bread and sprinkled it with olive oil, spices and cheese. Its name derives from the Latin verb pinsere – to press, to apply pressure.

The pizza as we know it, appears in Italy, and, more specifically, in Naples. During the 18th C, street traders sold flat bread, most often completely natural or slightly sprinkled with vegetable oil, practically everywhere. It was made easy and was quite cheap – that’s why it was massively popular. In the beginning of the 19h century, the usage of tomato sauce was found and the chefs began to garnish the round pizzas with it, putting more and more spices. Soon afterwards, the first pizzeria in Naples was founded.

Those pizza sprouts still have the authentic wood-fired pizza stoves. One of the best thing about them is that you don’t actually need to do any kind of oven cleaning here. In case you happen to build one, it’s easy to maintain by simply dusting off the excess ashes after cooking.

Pizza Margherita

Around 1889, king Umberto I and queen Margherita Savoy visited their summer residency in Naples, where they decided to spend the whole season. The queen heard of the local dish called pizza beforehand and wanted to taste it. Her curiosity was further stirred by the fact that it was meant for the simple folk, not for aristocrats. Her origin didn’t even allow her to visit one of the numerous pizzerias around the town.

Then the clever Margherita invited one of the most famous chefs – don Raffaelle Espozito, and ordered him to cook a selection of pizza for her majesty in the kitchen of the residency. Don Raffaelle, whose pizzeria was extremely popular at the time, decided to honour his queen with pizza, that represented the colours of the Italian flag. Her garnished the dough with fresh tomatoes (red), mozzarella (white) and basil (green) and called the pizza “Margherita”. The queen was strongly impressed and touched, whereas the dish became one of her favourite.

So, the pizza gained popularity in whole of Italy. New variations of cooking the dough appeared, while the experiments with its garnishing continue till today.

However, the Naples pizza is still considered an absolute original and it’s even protected by law in its country and in the EU. The recipe is super easy and here we took it straight from the original source. Every chef claims he owns the original recipe and, in the end, the “originals” are more than a thousand different ones. In order to avoid the culinary showdowns in the Italian restaurants, the European Commission accepted a single original pizza recipe.

According to the recipe, to make the perfect dough you need 1 kg of flour, 3 grams of yeast, 20 gr of sugar, 50 gr of olive oil Extra Virgin and, for a grande finale, 30 gr of salt. Here begins the battle of the ingredients, because each of them is unique in its own way.

The flour has to be sifted, in order to get plenty of oxygen, which will help for the dough to rise. The flour itself has different variations, that’s why the professional chefs look for a value, called “flour power”. It tells how much water the flour contains and what’s the possibility for its evaporation.

It’s extremely important, because, if you didn’t check the amount of water during the process, the dough might not “ripe” well. The water contents also affects the feeling of heaviness in the stomach after eating pizza. It’s due to the fact that the dough has risen, but hasn’t ripen and that interferes the digestion.

The salt turns out to be a very important ingredient, since the success of the whole pizza depends entirely on the moment you will add it. According to Italian chefs, the salt has to be put in the end, because its hygroscopic. From the other hand, the yeast contains 80-85 percent of water that the salt can easily neutralise and stop the process of rising.

The amount of water has to account for 50% of the flour, i.e. for 1 kg of flour you will need 450 ml of water. It has to be warm but not hot, because it will kill the effect of the yeast.

The recipe for the pizza dough itself leads us to a utensil filled with half of the water, all of the yeast, the sugar and the olive oil. Add the flour to the mixture and, finally, the salt and the rest of the water. After mixing everything, you will need to work on the dough. The kneading has to be performed with careful sliding movements of your palm. Warning: don’t ever use a rolling pin! It is strongly prohibited because it will suck out the air in the dough.

After you finish with this picky procedure, take the dough and cover it with a wet towel to avoid any forming of crust. Wait for 20 minutes and then form little balls (around the size of an orange), which you place in a hermetical utensil for additional rising.

If stored well, the dough can be used in the next few hours. The same dough can be used to cook bread, too. The difference is that you won’t make pizza balls but shape the form and reach the weight needed to make bread.

Assemble the Pizza

The freakishly easy Margherita sauce consists of only three ingredients – tomatoes, basil and mozzarella. Many London restaurants cook the pizza with tomato purée and yellow cheese. Some add oregano, too. We don’t accept the fact that all kinds of foods and what-nots are invented and take the name of famous and established recipes. As far as pizzas are concerned, they are covered with all kinds of toppings and products only to satisfy the whimsical customer. We think the focus from the original shifts, and, consequently, people forget it.

The sauce will be enough for two small pizzas:

  • 2 large ripen tomatoes
  • 250 gr mozzarella, cut in wheels
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • salt
  • fresh basil leaves

Peel the tomatoes and remove the seeds. Cut in cubes. Add two tbsp of the olive oil, a dash of salt and 5-6 cut basil leaves.

Another option is to slice the tomatoes in wheels. In this case, you will cover the dough with them and spread out the mozzarella and the basil on top.

Form a thin circle of dough by dusting one of the dough balls with flour and then place it on the working surface, which should be covered with flour, too. Using your hands, stretch the dough gently into a circle with a 12-inch diameter.

You can use a pizza stone or a baking sheet to roast the pizza. Do not use any kind of a baking tray – it’s, once again, a taboo for Italian chefs. A pizza peel will help you slide the pizza on the baking sheet/pizza stone easier. The procedure is as follows:

  • Stretch the pizza dough.
  • Dust the pizza reel/back of a baking sheet with flour
  • Place the pizza on top and top with sauce
  • Slide on the preheated baking sheet/pizza stone in the oven

Most probably you lack an wood-fired pizza stove. In case you have it, great – you now have ALL the variables in the equation for the best pizza. In case you don’t, you can resort to the good old electric or gas oven. Set your stove chamber at the highest possible temperature (broil). You will look for maximum crispiness, therefore don’t be afraid to rack up the degrees. Place the pizza stone at the top quarter of your oven. A baking sheet doesn’t need broiling – the middle rack is fine there.

5-7 minutes of broiling in an electric oven and 3 to 5 for a gas chamber are enough to crisp the bottom and blister the top of the pizza.

Broil the pizza for 5 to 7 minutes (3 to 5 minutes in a gas oven), rotating halfway, until the bottom of the crust is crispy, the top crust is blistered, and the cheese has melted. Using the peel or inverted baking sheet, transfer the cooked pizza to a cutting board. If you are making more than one pizza, allow the pizza stone to reheat under the broiler for 5 minutes before you cook the next one.

After a 5-minute cool-down, sprinkle with the rest of the basil leaves on top and slice the magnificent result!

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